TRENTON — Four New Jersey state troopers were either fired or forced to step down over bad behavior last year, according to a report from the State Police's internal affairs office.
They include an officer who was found guilty of domestic violence and mishandling a firearm; one who engaged in "racially offensive behavior" and publicly discussed police procedures while off duty; one who abused sick time policies and then lied about it; and one who drove drunk on the job, according to the report.
The report found overall incidents within the State Police rose 1 percent in 2015 from the previous year. The report notes that there were 727 incidents in 2015 for the division, which has 2,600 sworn members, and that it also received 1,084 citizen compliments during that same period.
It also found that incidents classified as police misconduct fell slightly, while those classified as administrative issues rose. Lt. Brian Polite, a spokesman for the State Police, attributed the change to improved self-policing within the division.
"Front-line supervisors are doing a better job of recognizing any small signs of things that could become issues and they're taking steps immediately to address them," he said.
The annual report details the findings of the Office of Professional Standards, which was created during an internal reorganization when the State Police was under federal monitoring for racial profiling. It describes major discipline meted out in misconduct cases but does not name any of the troopers involved.
State authorities also declined to identify the officers who were fired, resigned or retired over misconduct claims, calling the cases internal personnel matters. Often, troopers disciplined for misconduct are never identified publicly unless they are also charged criminally for their behavior or if they challenge the discipline before a state board.
But one of the four troopers who left the State Police last year has been identified in public records elsewhere. Sgt. Michael Roadside pleaded guilty in December to a single charge of driving while intoxicated after he was involved in a minor accident at a Garden State Parkway rest stop.
Dashboard video obtained by NJ Advance Media showed the sergeant was disheveled and acting erratically after the crash, initially declaring he wasn't drunk and blaming his behavior on a medical problem. The discipline report indicates Roadside was given a 56-day suspension and forfeited his vacation and personal time before he was forced into retirement over the ordeal.
It also discloses that one trooper was charged with simple assault in 2015 for an off duty incident, but was acquitted at trial and is still facing an internal misconduct investigation. NJ Advance Media reported last year that Trooper Aris Varvar was found not guilty of simple assault after he was accused of kicking a handcuffed suspect in the head following a police chase.
The report indicates that four troopers were charged with criminal or disorderly persons offenses while off duty during 2015.
That most likely includes trooper Steven Hodge, who was indicted last October for attacking a man with a bottle in a dispute outside Met Life Stadium. A second grand jury later threw out the case against Hodge, instead indicting his brother for the assault, but the trooper may still face lesser charges in municipal court and an internal investigation is ongoing.
Many of the officers disciplined in 2015 pleaded guilty to or were found guilty of incidents involving alcohol or domestic violence. Only two were disciplined for excessive force, including a trooper who pepper sprayed and kicked a suspect "without justification" and received a 120-day suspension, the report said.
It's unclear when many of these incidents occurred because disciplinary matters within the division can stretch on for months or years, meaning action brought against a trooper in 2015 could stem from an incident that happened much earlier.
Cop (unsuccessfully) sued department for releasing video of him abusing suspect
New video captures cop beating somebody else. He was fired, reinstated, then fired.
DAVID KRAVETS -
A federal appeals court on Monday dismissed a lawsuit brought by a fired Oklahoma police officer who sued his former department for damages after the agency released a video of the officer roughing up a suspect. The officer, Mike Denton, was fired and then reinstated with full back pay before being fired again years later after another video surfaced of him allegedly using excessive force on someone. Denton previously claimed the first video's release was a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech and association.
The 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals said the former officer did not prove that the release of the 2011 video by the Owasso Police Department was done in retaliation. Denton had previously e-mailed fellow union members urging them to reject a proposed collective bargaining agreement. But ultimately, the court said that Denton proffered "unsubstantiated allegations" (PDF).
The officer's suit, however, highlights that different people can come to varying conclusions about the value of police video. This idea first came to light with the Rodney King beating, but a similar split occurred with videos in Charlotte, North Carolina and El Cajon, California just last week. In this instance, Denton likely would not have found himself in hot water at all if not for the initial video.
In the Denton matter, the police department gave the Tulsa World video footage in 2011. Court documents describe this footage as Denton stepping on a suspect's head and then positioning the suspect's arms so that he "drove the suspect's face into the floor." What's more, the video shows Denton elbowing "the suspect in the face three times."
Last year, the Owasso City Council agreed to settle the federal civil rights lawsuit brought by the suspect whose abuse was caught on tape. The city agreed to pay $75,000 to Bryan Spradlin, 30. Arrested at his wife's residence on suspicion of intoxication, Spradlin claimed in his federal suit that he "suffered from numerous injuries, including facial cellulitis, due to Defendant's failure to secure immediate medical attention." The suit claims he also "suffered severe humiliation and emotional distress due to his abusive, demeaning, and humiliating treatment by the Officers."
Denton was fired in 2011 on allegations that he violated the department's excessive force rules. An arbitrator reinstated the officer a year later, ordering him to be given back pay and benefits totaling $283,000. Next, a Tulsa judge concluded that reinstatement would pose a "special risk of injury, physical and psychological, to citizens and, if he is allowed reinstatement, the department will be faced with explaining why Owasso allows abusive conduct by its officers, which is against the law." An Oklahoma appeals panel reversed this decision, and the state's Supreme Court declined to intervene—meaning that Denton returned to his job in 2014 with back pay plus $47,000 in overtime and $36,000 in interest, according to the Tulsa World.Now Denton has been fired again, and he's accused of using excessive force on a second suspect, another incident captured on video. He faces an assault trial beginning November 28. Denton is accused of pushing the barrel of a shotgun through the window of a vehicle and repeatedly using that to strike the suspect
Their defense of officers’ working conditions is a barrier to investigating misconduct claims and getting rid of those who break the rules.
By James Surowiecki
On August 26th, Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the national anthem, as a protest against police brutality. Since then, he’s been attacked by just about everyone—politicians, coaches, players, talk-radio hosts, veterans’ groups. But the harshest criticism has come from Bay Area police unions. The head of the San Francisco police association lambasted his “naïveté” and “total lack of sensitivity,” and called on the 49ers to “denounce” the gesture. The Santa Clara police union said that its members, many of whom provide security at 49ers games, might refuse to go to work if no action was taken against Kaepernick. A work stoppage to punish a player for expressing his opinion may seem extreme. But in the world of police unions it’s business as usual. Indeed, most of them were formed as a reaction against public demands in the nineteen-sixties and seventies for more civilian oversight of the police. Recently, even as the use of excessive force against minorities has caused outcry and urgent calls for reform, police unions have resisted attempts to change the status quo, attacking their critics as enablers of crime.
Police unions emerged later than many other public-service unions, but they’ve made up for lost time. Thanks to the bargains they’ve struck on wages and benefits, police officers are among the best-paid civil servants. More important, they’ve been extraordinarily effective in establishing control over working conditions. All unions seek to insure that their members have due-process rights and aren’t subject to arbitrary discipline, but police unions have defined working conditions in the broadest possible terms. This position has made it hard to investigate misconduct claims, and to get rid of officers who break the rules. A study of collective bargaining by big-city police unions, published this summer by the reform group Campaign Zero, found that agreements routinely guarantee that officers aren’t interrogated immediately after use-of-force incidents and often insure that disciplinary records are purged after three to five years.
Furthermore, thanks to union contracts, even officers who are fired can frequently get their jobs back. Perhaps the most egregious example was Hector Jimenez, an Oakland police officer who was dismissed in 2009, after killing two unarmed men, but who then successfully appealed and, two years later, was reinstated, with full back pay. The protection that unions have secured has helped create what Samuel Walker, an emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and an expert on police accountability, calls a “culture of impunity.” Citing a recent Justice Department investigation of Baltimore’s police department, which found a systemic pattern of “serious violations of the U.S. Constitution and federal law,” he told me, “Knowing that it’s hard to be punished for misconduct fosters an attitude where you think you don’t have to answer for your behavior.”
For the past fifty years, police unions have done their best to block policing reforms of all kinds. In the seventies, they opposed officers’ having to wear name tags. More recently, they’ve opposed the use of body cameras and have protested proposals to document racial profiling and to track excessive-force complaints. They have lobbied to keep disciplinary histories sealed. If a doctor commits malpractice, it’s a matter of public record, but, in much of the country, a police officer’s use of excessive force is not. Across the nation, unions have led the battle to limit the power of civilian-review boards, generally by arguing that civilians are in no position to judge the split-second decisions that police officers make. Earlier this year, Newark created a civilian-review board that was acclaimed as a model of oversight. The city’s police union immediately announced that it would sue to shut it down.
Cities don’t have to concede so much power to police unions. So why do they? Big-city unions have large membership bases and are generous when it comes to campaign contributions. Neither liberals nor conservatives have been keen to challenge the unions’ power. Liberals are generally supportive of public-sector unions; some of the worst police departments in the country are in cities, like Baltimore and Oakland, run by liberal mayors. And though conservatives regularly castigate public-sector unions as parasites, they typically exempt the police. Perhaps most crucial, Walker says, “police unions can make life very difficult for mayors, attacking them as soft on crime and warning that, unless they get their way, it will go up. The fear of crime—which is often a code word for race—still has a powerful political impact.” As a result, while most unions in the U.S. have grown weaker since the seventies, police unions have grown stronger.
All labor unions represent the interests of the workers against the bosses. But police officers are not like other workers: they have state-sanctioned power of life and death over fellow-citizens. It’s hardly unreasonable to demand real oversight in exchange. Union control over police working conditions necessarily entails less control for the public, and that means less transparency and less accountability in cases of police violence. It’s long past time we watched the watchmen. ♦
James Surowiecki is the author of “The Wisdom of Crowds” and writes about economics, business, and finance for the magazine.
LAPD Honors Officers Who Didn't Use Deadly Force, Much to the Police Union's Dismay "Preservation of Life" award valorizes officers who successfully de-escalated dangerous situations.
Anthony L. Fisher|
The LAPD bestowed its newly created "Preservation of Life Award" — recognizing officers who take exceptional care to successfully de-escalate dangerous situations and avoid using deadly force — on 25 officers at its annual "Above and Beyond" gala last Thursday night. The new honor is considered to be at the same level of prestige as the department's highest honor — the Medal of Valor.
One of the honorees, Officer Danielle Lopez, confronted a man who she believed was pointing an assault rifle at passing cars. Lopez and her partner were able to convince the man to drop his gun and arrest him without violence. It turns out the gun was fake.
Another recipient of the Preservation of Life medal, Officer Ericandrew Avendano, encountered an ax-wielding man he suspected was suffering from mental illness or was high on drugs. Avendano spoke with the man and contained the situation peacefully before backup arrived to assist in subduing the man without shooting him.
Police departments in Camden (N.J.) and Philadelphia each have their own version of the award, according to the Los Angeles Times, but the LAPD's union — the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) — thinks the award is a "terrible idea" which will "will prioritize the lives of suspected criminals over the lives of LAPD officers, and goes against the core foundation of an officer's training."
In a blog post reacting to the award's creation last November, the LAPPL Board of Directors wrote:
We recognize the Chief's intentions, however, the reality is the "Preservation of Life" award announced Tuesday by Chief Beck is ill-conceived and in actuality has dangerous implications. Incentivizing officers for "preservation of life" suggests somehow that this is not what they train hard to do. It suggests that officers must go above and beyond their normal activities to avoid harm; or put another way, that officers will be penalized for resorting to an appropriate, lawful use of force. That is ludicrous. The last thing an LAPD officer wants to do is to harm, or worse yet, take the life of a suspect.
It's not just the honoring of the successful deployment of de-escalation techniques that the union has a problem with, it's the training of such techniques at all. Earlier this year, I wrote about the LAPPL's opposition to the LAPD Police Commission's recommendation for new "use-of-force policies that emphasize de-escalation and the use of minimal force in encounters with the public."
Union Director James McBride addressed the Commission at the time, warning that if an officer were to die because the new use-of-force policies caused him/her to hesitate, "there will be blood on your hands." I also noted:
Union President Craig Lally, once named a "problem officer" in a blue-ribbon panel's report on "the problem of excessive force in theLAPD" following the 1991 beating of Rodney King, said the new policies create a "no-win situation for the officer."
Lally added that if faced with a potentially violent situation, "The best way to de-escalate is to run away."
New York City Police Academy cadets attend their graduation ceremony | Andrew Burton/Getty Images
It’s difficult to watch the news or read the newspaper for a week without seeing a story of alleged police brutality or a case where misunderstandings between citizens and officers spiraled wildly out of control, putting lives in danger on both sides of the handcuffs. Jobs as an officer are undoubtedly some of the most stressful and dangerous, especially in the charged climate of strained relationships between departments and the communities they are sworn to serve in many cities across the nation.
In light of this, the most influential minds in law enforcement agree that changes need to be made in how police officers are prepared for their jobs. When we dig past single current events, we start to see a training system that is in need of some significant improvements. However, the focus needs to be on system-wide improvements, rather than placing the blame at the feet of individual officers, wrote Ronald Davis, the director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (a division of the United States Department of Justice).
“If we are to achieve real and sustainable reform in law enforcement, our focus must shift from the police (those individuals sworn to uphold the law) to policing systems (the policies, practices, and culture of police organizations),” Davis wrote in an open letter to his colleagues around the nation. With that in mind, we took a look at some of the suggestions that officers and academics have given in recent months for improving the way officers are prepared for their jobs. They might not account for every incident gone wrong, but could ward off unnecessary conflict or violence.
Police reform is becoming a national citizens movement and of course our elected officials are no where to be found
Dozens of Vermonters gathered at the Winooski traffic circle Friday night to take a stand against violent policing, both locally and across the country.
Organizers called the peaceful protest just one week after a deadly officer-involved shooting in Winooski.
An off-duty sheriff's deputy shot and killed 29-year-old Jesse Beshaw on Hickock Street.
"I was saddened to see another senseless, avoidable death that had happened, and there's just no excuse for it," protester Nolan Rampy said.
Friday, many met to mourn Beshaw and call for a systemic change in policing.
"What I'm really upset about is that across the country, there has been a real militarization of police forces, local police forces, and I'm really concerned about that," protester Sandy Baird said.
The Peace & Justice Center helped host the event, after Beshaw's aunt reached out for help.
"Their personal encounter with violence was the catalyst for them to call together an event, so that people will see and officials will see that people won't stand by, that we will question this culture of violence,"Rachel Siegel, executive director of the Peace & Justice Center, said.
Among the chants, the protesters called for the body camera footage from the fatal night to be released. The state's attorney has said, however, that the video will be released in a few weeks, when the active investigation is over.
WHY ACCESS TO VIDEO OF POLICE BRUTALITY IS CRUCIAL FOR JUSTICE
I grew up in a mostly white, Midwestern college town before I moved to North Carolina at 13. Fortunately, I never directly confronted racism during my childhood; I naïvely associated the idea of protesting for civil rights with decades past.
I didn’t question my ability to exercise my rights until I started college. I took several classes that explored racial divides and discrimination and began to read more about the issues my community faces — like inequitable education, economic disadvantages, and housing discrimination. I was challenged with the realization that some of my classmates didn’t understand what life as a person of color in America is like. It was perplexing at best, frustrating and infuriating at worst.
Then Michael Brown was killed at the hands of the police. And Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, John Crawford II, Jason Harrison, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and so many more unarmed citizens were killed. It seemed like almost every week another unarmed black person fell prey to the very men who had sworn to protect them. I couldn’t watch the news, read a paper, or go online without feeling my stomach drop. I watched my peers laughing and talking across campus as if there wasn’t a crisis occurring in our own backyard. At times, it felt like we lived in two different worlds: one that was hurting from being unjustly attacked, and one that was comfortably unconcerned.
To this day, every time I log on to social media and see that a new name has been hashtagged in memoriam, my heart hurts. These men look like my cousins, my uncles, my best friends. They look like all the people in my life that I have ever loved. Seeing these familiar faces in pain on the news — whether through the shaky lens of a bystander’s cell phone or the crackling recording of a police dashboard camera — only makes my own pain worse. I cannot count how many tears I’ve held back after seeing innocent people bleed out in the street, as if the space they took up in this world didn’t matter.
Despite how painful it is to watch these incidents, the footage released from police body cameras and dashboard cameras helps paint a picture of a victim’s last, tumultuous moments. When there is evidence of a police shooting that appears to have involved an unjust or excessive use of force, the public can rightfully express their questions, concerns, and frustrations — and in turn use this footage to hold their law enforcement officers accountable for failing to protect and serve American citizens and honor their rights.
Yet on July 11, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill into law that seals police videos from the public (including citizens recorded in the video) unless a court order is obtained. This means that the media, social justice organizations, and even victims’ families have to go through extensive measures to view the footage — and even then they can still be denied. The American Civil Liberties Union called the bill shameful, and for good reason: Police officers are public servants, and their interactions with the public should not be hidden. While the governor claims that sealing footage will promote trust between the community and the police who serve it, this bill actually creates “forced trust,” and will create unrest instead of cooperation. Governor McCrory also said the bill will protect police, but seems to remain hesitant to express a desire to protect citizens, too.
But McCrory has faced public backlash for his actions. After the September 20 shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott, violent protests erupted throughout the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, where McCrory was formerly mayor. The police department initially justified the shooting, but refused to release police video. After facing pressure from the community and by request of the family, however, the police finally released the footage, which failed to support the account police had initially given. Crucially, while there were some violent protests right after Scott’s death, once the footage became public the protests reportedly became far more peaceful, which serves as evidence that dashboard camera and body camera videos should be public record.
This is exactly why I started a petition to make police videos public record in North Carolina. Thousands have signed, but that’s still not enough, because on October 1, McCrory’s bill went into effect: Police videos officially became sealed in North Carolina. This means that if another person falls victim to police violence, their story could be buried and left unsolved. The law also sends the message to other states that they can do the same thing and turn a deaf ear to this searing problem.
We are at a crucial moment in our nation’s history. Shootings like Scott’s and others have happened in our nation for many decades, but only recently have cell phone and police footage captured images of the violence and spread them all over the world. Without this police footage, however, the only voices our communities hear are those of the police rather than the victims. If we don’t tackle police brutality head-on, it will continue to haunt us.
What’s more, we must solve this together — not behind closed doors. We need to remind our local senators and congressmen that transparency and accountability are vital within our communities, and that everyone’s voice matters — including the voices in the videos of citizens who no longer have the ability to tell their own stories. As we’ve seen many times already, without accountability to the people they serve, police departments can act unjustly without consequences. I hope you’ll join us in making our streets safer and our police departments accountable.
To learn more about police accountability and the 2016 presidential election go toelectthis.com
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By Jarvis DeBerry, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
he New Orleans Police Department has announced that five officers who neglected to fully investigate evidence of sexual abuse and child abuse have been disciplined for their disturbing indifference. Some of the officers were suspended. Some received a letter of reprimand. Some received both. The department's response seems rather mild — given that the police failed to do what they should have done to bring about justice for the most vulnerable among us. But even though the punishments were mild, we are confronted with a police union official who's vowing to get those punishments undone.
"Honestly, I just don't know what it is that these officers are accused of," Donovan Livaccari, a spokesman for the city's Fraternal Order of Police, told NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. "And I think I should know by now." To be fair, Livaccari was speaking about the punishments before he had read the officers' official disciplinary letters. But there's no excuse for Livvacari not knowing what the accusations are. In a November 2014 report by New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux, their transgressions were made quite plain. Simply put: The officers in question, according to the inspector general's report, were lackadaisical when they should have been concerned; they were negligent when they should have been focused on bringing rapists — including those raping children — to justice.
Quatrevaux's office didn't treat its investigation into the sex-crimes unit like the typical report that accuses an agency of being wasteful with its resources. More than a month before its report was released, Quatrevaux's office informed the Police Department that there were children in situations that put them at risk of being physically or sexually abused. Thus, before the November report was even released 13 children had either been removed from their homes or referred to child protective services.
5 NOPD officers disciplined for failings in sex crimes
Three detectives and two sergeants -- including a supervisor -- are being suspended or reprimanded, NOPD said.
According to that 2014 report, between 2011 and 2013 detectives Akron Davis, Merrell Merricks, Derrick Williams, Damita Williams and Vernon Hayes were assigned 1,290 sexual-assault or child-abuse calls and 86 percent of those cases were not followed up with an investigative report. Two times out of three the officers in question used the label "miscellaneous incident," that is, nothing the police should worry about looking into further.
In one case a child younger than 3 arrived at a hospital emergency room with a sexually transmitted disease. Davis reportedly concluded a child presenting with a sexually transmitted disease was no evidence that a crime had been committed against that child. He reportedly exhibited the same nonchalance when an infant was found to have skull fractures and when a small child complained of abuse from a registered sex offender. Davis was suspended seven days.
Sgt. Merrell Merricks received a letter of reprimand for reportedly backdating investigative reports requested by the inspector general and for claiming to have sent a rape kit to the State Police when in fact it had never actually left the Police Department's evidence room.
In 2013 the inspector general's office requested supplemental reports from two rapes Derrick Williams should have investigated in 2011 and 2010. He apparently wrote those two reports about those rapes on the same day in 2013. He was suspended 10 days.
Apparently, Damita Williams had made it known to multiple people that she doesn't think simple rape — for example, taking advantage of a person who is drunk or drugged — is a crime. And only one of the 11 simple rape cases she was assigned over a three-year period ever reached the district attorney's office. Damita Williams was suspended 10 days and reprimanded.
Hayes retired earlier this year. Sgt. James Kelly, who wasn't mentioned in the 2014 report but was removed that year as one of two supervisors of the department's sex-crime unit, was suspended 30 days.
Five NOPD detectives mishandled rape, child abuse investigations, inspector general finds
Five NOPD detectives have been transferred to street patrol and are under internal investigation.
The list above does not include all the ways the officers were said to have messed up. But there are enough reasons there for the public — and for Livvacari — to know why the officers are being punished.
It's worth noting that before the police union official had seen the disciplinary letters, Livvacari was vowing to appeal the officers' suspensions. That confirms what we already know: that the unions reflexively defend their members, no matter the details of the criticism. Livvacari is right when he says that the Police Department as a whole bears some blame for crimes not being properly investigated. Even so, there's something deeply disturbing about an officer who does nothing after learning that a toddler has an STD and that an infant has skull fractures.
For what it's worth, Quatrevaux says the sex-crimes unit has made a 180 degree turn since his office's 2014 report. "What was bad before is very good now," Quatrevaux said in June. "It's a remarkable turnaround."
If that turnaround is to last, so must these punishments.
Jarvis DeBerry is deputy opinions editor at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/jarvisdeberry.
New research shows there’s one big change when cops wear cameras
Cameras worn on police uniforms have been lauded as a possible solution to many of the problems facing officers in the line of duty, from violence against law enforcement to the unnecessary use of force. The US Department of Justice recently announced a plan to spend $20 million on body cameras for cops in 32 states.
The cameras are controversial, as all surveillance technology tends to be. And until recently, there’s been little hard evidence about how effective body cameras actually are. According to new research from the University of Cambridge, which studied seven police forces in the US and the UK, the answer is that they are transformative in at least one way.
Researchers used complaints against police as a proxy for the effect of the cameras, hypothesizing that one major reason for complaints is that cops behaved in a negative, avoidable way. (There are other reasons for complaints, the researchers acknowledge, given the emotionally charged nature of many interactions with police.)
Compared to the previous year when cameras were not worn, complaints across the seven regions fell by 93% over the 12 months of the experiment. The study encompassed nearly 1.5 million officer hours across more than 4,000 shifts.
“I cannot think of any [other] single intervention in the history of policing that dramatically changed the way that officers behave, the way that suspects behave, and the way they interact with each other,” Barak Ariel, the lead researcher, told the BBC.
The theory is that cameras make police officers more accountable for their actions, because people tend to change their behavior when they believe they are being observed. At the same time, this also limits non-compliance from people with whom the police interact.
“It seems that knowing with sufficient certainty that our behavior is being observed or judged affects various social cognitive processes: We experience public self-awareness, become more prone to socially acceptable behavior, and sense a heightened need to cooperate with rules,” the researchers write.
They also noted that there was a reduction in the amount of complaints against officers who didn’t wear cameras but were working in the same forces among those who did. The researchers called this “contagious accountability.” All officers were acutely aware of being observed more closely, whether they were wearing a camera or not.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that complaints fell by 98%. It was in fact 93%.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved this week the Office of the Independent Police Auditor.
By Mary Ann Barton (Patch Staff) - September 23, 2016 4:42 pm ET
FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA -- The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Office of the Independent Police Auditor this week. This position has a broad mandate and will report directly to the Board of Supervisors, the County said in a news release.
“We fully support the establishment of the Office of Police Auditor to increase our transparency to the community we proudly serve," Colonel Edwin Roessler Jr., chief of police, said.
The position will have many responsibilities and roles, but as a sampling, here are five key ways the auditor will work to enhance trust between our community and police, according to Fairfax County:
1.) Monitor and review internal investigations of Fairfax County Police Department officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths and use of force cases in which an individual is killed or seriously injured.
2.) Request further investigation if the auditor determines that an internal investigation was deficient or conclusions were not supported by the evidence.
3.) Issue a public report for each reviewed internal investigation.
4.) Review all resident complaint investigations of alleged excessive or unnecessary force by officers.
5.) Produce annual reports analyzing trends and recommending improvements.
The police auditor is part of the broader set of changes to the department, which have also included:
• Established Diversion First.
• Re-engineered how police are trained with a focus on de-escalation and the sanctity of life.
• Reorganized the public affairs team and hired a full-time civilian director.
• Established a policy to release the names of officers involved in critical incidents within 10 days and provide updates on these incidents at least every 30 days.
• Collected and published key data on police interactions including uses of force and officer-involved shootings.
• And now established the Office of the Independent Police Auditor.
Creating an independent civilian review panel will be discussed at the next meeting of the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee on Oct. 25 at 1 p.m. in Rooms 9/10 at the Fairfax County Government Center.
Shoplifting Incident at Kohl's Leads to Charges: Police
Kudos to Board of Supervisors for unanimous approval of independent police auditor; now on to the Civilian Review Panel.
By Mary Kimm
#The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to create the position and office of independent police auditor on Tuesday, Sept. 20, creating the first civilian, independent oversight of law enforcement in Fairfax County. The unanimous vote demonstrated the board’s commitment to the ongoing process that began early in 2015 when Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova established the 32-member Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission.
#Police Chief Edwin Roessler expressed strong support for two keystone recommendations of the Ad Hoc Commission, the auditor and the Civilian Review Panel, next up for consideration and implementation by the Board of Supervisors.
#Many commission recommendations have already been approved, including the establishment of the Diversion First program providing treatment rather than jail for people in mental health crisis, development of an overriding use of force policy, and more transparency in police communications.
#Independent oversight and civilian participation in reviewing police use of force, officer-involved shootings and citizen complaints will play a vital role in maintaining Fairfax County Police Department’s reputation as being one of the very best law enforcement organizations in the nation.
#Some critics complain that the final language approving the auditor limits the independence of the office, but the auditor will be briefed on investigations contemporaneously, providing a window of oversight and sunshine not previously in place. There are more than 200 different civilian oversight structures around the country. While civilian oversight is a national best practice, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommends that every community have community oversight of police, with each community developing the model that is best locally.
#Public Safety Committee chair John Cook (R-Braddock) is tasked with shepherding major recommendations through the Board of Supervisors. He pointed out that the specifics of the approval for the auditor are not locked in stone; revisions after a period of experience would not be surprising.
#Recommendations by the Independent Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee for the Fairfax County model included establishing the Independent Police Auditor and establishing a Civilian Review Panel to respond to community concerns or complaints about alleged incidents of abuse of authority by the FCPD.
#The panel as proposed would not conduct investigations and would not be involved in the disciplinary process for any officer, but would review select investigations after they are complete. The panel would also not overlap duties with the auditor.
#The panel could issue public reports, and meet with the auditor periodically, providing its views to the Board of Supervisors and the chief of police as to policy and practices changes that may be warranted. The panel could also hold periodic public forums around the county to gather information and suggestions about the FCPD, public perceptions and recommendations for policy and procedure, involving other police advisory committees and members of the Board of Supervisors as appropriate.
#Indications are that there will be some modifications to the proposal for the Civilian Review Panel over the coming weeks. It’s a good time for those with interest to tune in.
#The board’s Public Safety Committee will discuss the creation of a Civilian Review Panel at its next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 25 at 1 p.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center.
Adrian Spencer, a Milwaukee resident, belongs to a community group trying to improve public safety and relations with the police. CreditDarren Hauck for The New York Times
MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee residents were outraged when they learned, about three months after the fact, that a biracial man at a party had been severely beaten by several white off-duty police officers also in attendance. The man, Frank Jude, was left with a broken nose, bruises and severe bleeding in his ears, a result of having pens pushed into them.
The attack, which took place in October 2004 and came to light after an article in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, prompted protests. In the fallout, nine officers were fired by the Milwaukee Police Department; three were eventually convicted on federal charges of violating Mr. Jude’s civil rights.
It also, according to new research, led to a drop in 911 calls in Milwaukee notifying the police of crimes.
The lag between Mr. Jude’s beating and its becoming widely known created a particularly good natural experiment for a team of sociologists interested in learning whether mistrust of the police can play a role in a community’s reluctance to report crimes. The results may also influence debate over the effect that wider dissemination of instances of police violence, which can now be recorded on cellphone video and spread quickly via the internet, might have on fighting crime.
In a new paper in the American Sociological Review, the sociologists Matthew Desmond of Harvard, Andrew V. Papachristos of Yale and David S. Kirk of Oxford have drawn a direct link between widely publicized acts of police violence and the number of 911 calls neighborhoods make.
The lag between when Mr. Jude was attacked and when it became widely known allowed the researchers to isolate the episode’s effect on 911 calls. The researchers pored over 110,000 such calls in Milwaukee, one year before and one year after the beating. The researchers estimated that 17 percent (or 22,000) fewer calls were made than would have been likely if the attack had never happened. They found that the effect lasted roughly one year.
Mr. Desmond said that the results “kind of blew us away; we weren’t expecting to see such a big effect and an effect to last so long.”
The effect broke along racial lines: The majority of the decline in calls took place in black neighborhoods. “It shows what a deep rift events like this cause in the social fabric, in predominately black communities,” Mr. Desmond said.
An abandoned home, a magnet for drugs and prostitution, became a target of crime-fighting efforts in Milwaukee. CreditDarren Hauck for The New York Times
Such events didn’t need to be local to have an impact. The researchers also looked at how the volume of calls to 911 in Milwaukee changed after news accounts of police violence in other, distant cities. In one of the other two cases they studied, they found a significant impact on crime reporting.
The change in calls is unusual because the relationship between crime and calls to the police is typically strong. “If crime is going up in Milwaukee, calls should also be going up,” Mr. Papachristos said.
The advantage of using 911 data is that it’s somewhat of a hybrid between survey and administrative data. With surveys, the best a researcher can do is ask what a person might do in a given situation; it’s not clear whether what people say in a survey will match with what they’ll actually do in real life. The record of 911 calls, by contrast, is data created by residents in their moment of need.
“This is derived from what people are doing — it won’t be as biased as crime reports,” Mr. Papachristos said. “This is the first time that we’ve seen a result in citizen activity.”
It’s not as if people are silent when a crime takes place. Quite the opposite: News spreads fast from house to house.
“Residents are very willing to tell you about what’s happening in their neighborhood,” said Adrian Spencer, who at one point lived in a predominately black neighborhood in central Milwaukee across the street from a tavern that had become a magnet for fights, drag races and shootings. “But it’s much more difficult to get them to talk directly to the police. Or come to a hearing.”
To Ms. Spencer’s surprise, she and her mother seemed to be the only ones calling 911 to report crime connected with the tavern. When she asked other people in the neighborhood, some of whom had lived there longer than she had, the usual response was: What were the police going to do?
She suspects this reluctance to call is rooted in skepticism that law enforcement can make much of a difference or be fair to the residents. “There’s a huge fear of retaliation,” she said. “It’s not happening on the level that they’re thinking that it is. And then you look on TV and you see what’s happening on TV with the police, you definitely don’t want to come in contact with the police if you don’t have to.”
The new study focuses only on data that is 12 years old and primarily focused on Milwaukee. But Mr. Desmond says that the effect may also be true elsewhere: “I think it has implications for what we’re seeing in Cleveland, in Charlotte, in Baltimore, with very publicized cases of police violence. Milwaukee is similar to places like Baltimore and Cleveland in its level of segregation. I think that probably has a lot to do with the story. ”
Researchers have estimated that something changed in how often Milwaukee residents called 911 in early 2005, especially in black neighborhoods. Around that time, news broke of an earlier attack by police officers on a biracial man.
Neighborhood underreporting offers another possible explanation. In an effort to explain rising homicide rates, some police chiefs have saidthat the publicity and backlash surrounding highly publicized episodes in places like Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore have increased the brazenness of criminals. Others, such as James Comey, the F.B.I. director, have suggested it stems from the reluctance of police officers to patrol as aggressively because they fear becoming the subject of the next viral video. The new study may shed more light on whether the increase in crime last year was part of a deepening skepticism that the police can make a difference in already violent neighborhoods.
Chief Edward A. Flynn of the Milwaukee police doesn’t see the connection. He says that calls for service are up in Milwaukee.
He says the researchers’ data were affected by a quirk in how Milwaukee handled its 911 calls. Until three years ago, 911 calls were initially received by the county and then passed along to the city. Chief Flynn says many calls were dropped before they reached the city, but after the Police Department had sent an officer.
“Too often, researchers are doing mass data dumps without field research,” he said. “They’re taking metadata and extrapolating.”
Mr. Desmond says that they were careful to incorporate “administrative considerations that lead to underreporting of calls” and that they worked with a sergeant in the Milwaukee Police Department’s open records section on those issues. Also, Mr. Desmond says that none of the details Chief Flynn mentioned would address the differences in crime reporting between black and white neighborhoods.
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Whatever the causes, there are hints that neighborhoods can have a change of heart. The turning point for Ms. Spencer came four years ago, when 18 bullets were fired at her home and the beauty shop beside her house, striking her room and her daughter’s room. She began to hold meetings to discuss the tavern and crime in her neighborhood more generally. Eventually, after two years of effort, she persuaded the city to revoke the tavern’s liquor license.
She went on to become a community organizer for Safe & Sound, a group that tries to increase communication between the police and vulnerable neighborhoods in Milwaukee. “There’s always going to be people who are more comfortable talking with me, because I grew up here — I’m a civilian,” Ms. Spencer said.
She trains people to follow up with the police, how to appropriately address negative interactions with them and how to pass on tips when they prefer to stay anonymous. Still, she says many of the 75 to 80 people she meets every month have a hard time opening up.
“It’s a tough, tough thing to do,” she said. “Rightfully so, because people have these experiences that they fall back on. For most people, the type of interactions they’ve had with the police have been negative interactions.”
Apology cake: 'Sorry I Tased You'
Woman suing former deputy who allegedly tased her without provocation and apologized with a cake
A Florida woman has filed a civil lawsuit against a former Escambia County, Fla., deputy, charging that he shocked her with a Taser in her chest and neck without provocation, tried to cover up the incident and then later—adding insult to injury—apologized with a cake.
According to the Pensacola News Journal, Stephanie Byron filed the lawsuit in May, claiming that Michael Wohlers used excessive force, violated her civil rights, committed battery, and caused her physical injuries, monetary loss, medical expenses, humiliation and mental anguish.
The original alleged incident dates to June 2015, when, according to the suit, Wohlers had finished his patrol shift and went to visit Byron at an apartment complex where she worked.
According to the News Journal, documents from the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission indicated that Wohlers deployed his stun gun during “horseplay” with the victim. However, Byron and her attorney deny that any “play” was involved.
The lawsuit accuses Wohlers of using “his apparent law-enforcement authority to intimidate, harass and threaten plaintiff … about her personal life. Because Wohlers did not like how plaintiff failed to respond to his show of authority, Wohlers became increasingly aggressive toward employees at the apartment complex’s office, including with Ms. Byron,” the News Journal reports.
The lawsuit claims that Wohlers took Byron’s sweet tea from her and refused to return it, and that when Byron went to get the drink back, Wohlers discharged his Taser into her chest and throat. When Byron fell to the ground, the lawsuit charges, Wohlers “jumped onto [her], kneeing her in the chest” and “forcefully removed the Taser prods.”
Court documents indicate that Wohler later tried to apologize by baking Byron a cake with the words “Sorry I Tased You” written on it, the News Journal reports.
Aamer Madhani , USA
Police departments and policymakers around the country are grappling with how to bolster training for cops on mental health issues in the midst of a string of high-profile fatal incidents involving suspects believed to be in the throes of mental breakdowns.
The current debate on policing in America has largely focused on whether inherent racial bias has led to police disproportionately using deadly force against African-Americans.
But long simmering on the back burner is the struggle for police departments to deal with the eye-popping number of deadly incidents that involve people with mental health issues, law enforcement and mental health experts says. A study by the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center published last year found that people with mental illness are 16 times more likely than others to be killed by police, while theNational Alliance on Mental Illness estimates 15% of men and 30% women annually booked at U.S. jails have mental health problems.
“What departments are going through right now is nothing short of a cultural revolution,” said Peter Scharf, a criminologist at the LSU School of Public Health and Justice. "Jails have become the alms house of this generation and police have become the first responders to the mentally ill."
The issue of mental illness and policing was drawn back into the spotlight after police in El Cajon, Calif., on Sept. 27 fatally shot Alfred Olango, 38, an unarmed man who was killed after his sister says she called police for help because he was in the midst of a mental health crisis. Olango's sister, who has not been identified, says she told police that Olango did not have a weapon.
Police in the San Diego suburb said officers fatally shot Olango only after he rapidly pulled an object from his waistband and took what was described as a “shooting stance.” After shooting him, police discovered the object that Olango drew from his pants was a vape device.
The Olango shooting came days after the controversial police-involved shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte in which his wife can be heard on a cellphone video telling police officers that Scott suffered a traumatic brain injury moments before they opened fire. Police say Scott was holding a gun when he was shot, while some family members say he was only holding a book.
Before the incidents in Charlotte and San Diego, there had been a surge in the effort by police departments and politicians looking to find ways to reduce the number of instances in which force is deployed and diverting the number of mentally ill people from the expensive proposition of incarceration.
In Minneapolis, Mayor Betsy Hodges in August introduced plans for a pilot programthat would pair mental health professionals with streets cops responding to emergencies. Meanwhile, the Chicago Police Department this month launched a new mandatory de-escalation training program for the nation’s second-largest police force that has a heavy focus on mental health training.
And during the first presidential debate, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said the federal government should do more to support police departments to deal with the vexing issue.
“Police are having to handle a lot of really difficult mental health problems on the street,” Clinton said. “They want support, they want more training, they want more assistance. And I think the federal government could be in a position where we would offer and provide that.”
TRAINING WITH BALANCE
In the newly launched Chicago training program, officers, over two days, are presented a variety of live scenarios and exercises that force them to wrestle with how they would respond to tense situations.
As part of the training, the department is using some recent incidents as teaching moments — including having officers study aspects of a controversial police shooting last year in which a Chicago cop killed a bat-wielding college student in the throes of a mental health crisis, while also mistakenly fatally shooting the young man’s 55-year-old neighbor.
That incident last December came a little more than a month after the city was forced by court order to release a chilling video showing a white police officer fatally shoot a black teen 16 times. Laquan McDonald, 17, who was gunned down holding a small knife as he appeared to run away from police had a history of mental health problems.
Sgt. Larry Snelling, lead instructor of the Chicago training program, said the department wants officers to use the least amount of force as possible.
“That being said, de-escalation doesn’t always work,” Snelling said. “The training is balanced in the hopes that officers when they are faced with a deadly threat…are capable of responding to save the lives of one of our citizens or themselves.”
TRAINING ALONE NO PANACEA
More than 3,000 of the nation’s roughly 18,000 police departments have some or all of their officers go through Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, according to Laura Usher, a program manager for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
The model for the program, which was pioneered in the late 1980s by the Memphis Police Department, calls for 40 hours of training that includes teaching officers verbal de-escalation skills, scenario-based training and having officers spend time interacting with individuals who have gone through a mental health crisis.
It’s unclear what percentage of departments have such robust training. A survey published by the Police Executive Research Forum last year found that that new recruits received a median amount of eight hours on crisis intervention training compared to 58 hours on firearms training.
Usher said that while police chiefs largely recognize that a disproportionate number of people arrested have mental health issues, but they struggle to make time for training when they face demands to keep officers on the street.
“The other thing is that the training is not a panacea,” Usher said. “It’s also about the partnerships with their local mental health agencies and advocates in changing the culture and how the community approaches people in a mental health crisis.”
Some law enforcement experts, including the LSU criminologist Scharf, say mental health training can help officers reduce arrests for relatively small infractions and help cops build a baseline of understanding about what mentally ill people experience – valuable knowledge when thrown into a volatile encounter with someone in the midst of a crisis.
But Scharf cautioned that the training has its limitations for a cop who has to make a split-second decision particularly when dealing with someone who is believed to be armed and agitated.
"Should police get this training? Yes," Scharf said. "But just like you can't do neurosurgery with eight hours of training, you can't expect a cop to be able to learn to talk a gun out of the hands of someone with such limited training."
COPS BUDDY UP WITH MENTAL HEALTH PROS
Over the years, a handful of large and midsize departments – including Los Angeles and San Antonio – have partnered with mental health professionals to work as “co-responders,” assisting street cops responding to incidents involving individuals in the midst of a mental health crisis.
Some midsize departments in recent years have begun testing pairing cops with mental health professionals.
The Overland Park (Kan.) Police Department, a force of about 250, hired a “co-responder” in 2014 to assist officers after seeing a surge in mental health related calls, which were often bogging down beat officers’ time.
During her first year on the job, the co-responder, Megan Younger, helped divert individuals on 129 occasions to receive mental health care, according to Overland Park Police.
The department estimates that her work also helped the department avoid making 40 arrests during her first year on the job, saving the department $61,000 in costs.
Overland Park police officials believe that the interventions with the co-responder, who has made more than 1,800 visits with people with mental health issues during the time with the force, mitigate the chances of a more dangerous encounter with the individuals occurring in the future.
Officer Jackie Zickel said she partnered with Younger not long after the department started the program and saw firsthand the efficacy of having a mental health specialist by her side. The first call she was on in which Younger was deployed involved a couple whose adult son was destroying their home during a schizophrenic episode.
Zickel recalled that when she and her police partner arrived at the volatile scene the young man had locked himself in his room. Zickel was eventually able to talk the young man into coming to the family’s living room to meet Younger, who was able to persuade him to take his medication.
“They see the difference between us and her,” Zickel said. “It helps them understand that we’re there to make sure the situation stays safe, and that she is there to help them get out of the crisis.”
Fla. Woman Charges That Cop Baked Her a ‘Sorry I Tased You’ Cake
Stephanie Byron has filed a civil lawsuit claiming that former Escambia County Deputy Michael Wohlers used excessive force, violated her civil rights, committed battery against her and caused her hardships—then baked her a cake to say “Sorry.”